Skilled trade school expands in Madison Heights

CET Apprenticeship Training School helps students start careers

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published October 25, 2016

 Marvin Rysztak teaches Electrical 3 in one of the new classrooms.

Marvin Rysztak teaches Electrical 3 in one of the new classrooms.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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OAKLAND COUNTY — College isn’t the only path to a fulfilling career. There are many rewarding opportunities in the skilled trades. The state estimates that there will be more than 6,700 skilled trades jobs waiting to be filled in the state every year through 2022, with average salaries as high as $34 an hour. And a newly expanded school in Madison Heights aims to help people attain those jobs.

The Construction Education Trust (CET) Apprenticeship Training School, currently at 31800 Sherman Ave., has been training skilled laborers in southeast Michigan for more than 30 years, helping hundreds to obtain a journeyman’s license. The school is nationally accredited.

About 95 percent of CET graduates are employed in their field after graduation, in fields such as electrical, carpentry, roofing, construction, plumbing, sheet metal, heating and cooling, and more. The majority of students are studying to become electricians, doing their four-year apprenticeships during the day and attending class in the evening.

With its recent renovation and expansion, which converted the upstairs into classroom facilities, CET has now doubled its capacity, meaning CET can teach more students in-house rather than holding classes off-site. The new space will allow up to 100 additional students annually.

In addition, CET’s 12,000-square-foot training facility features workstations overseen by experienced craftsmen who teach a structured curriculum, while also giving students hands-on experience on projects using industry-standard tools and techniques. The stations focus on skills such as electrical, motor controls, pipe bending/cutting/threading, metal fabrication, duct layout, HVAC components, welding, carpentry, roofing and more.

Keith Ledbetter is the president and CEO of the Associated Builders and Contractors, Southeast Michigan Chapter, and president of CET, the nonprofit initially created by ABC. He provides leadership over both groups, and said the school differs from others in the area in how it works to ensure that the students find employment.

“We’re trying to get new people into the construction industry, recruit them in and train them so they get placed in private-sector companies. That’s an important difference,” Ledbetter said. “A key aspect in an apprenticeship program is on-the-job training. It’s not enough to just have classroom experience — you also need industry experience. And we help them find jobs so they can work and gain experience while they’re going to school.”

Ledbetter said it’s important to him for people to know there are many fulfilling careers in skilled trades. He feels that the K-12 school system fails to communicate this.

“My son is a senior in high school. The schools typically provide college readiness information — which exams to take, what scores to get, how to apply — but most schools don’t give you the information you need to progress to non-college-related careers,” Ledbetter said. “So we’re reaching out to high schools and saying if you have shop or similar programs, we want to give your students a vision for the future — something they can look forward to upon graduation.”

As such, CET has been reaching out to local school districts and the Oakland Intermediate School District, partnering with them on different initiatives. CET is also open to taking its program on the road and setting up shop at other locations to reach students elsewhere in Oakland County and the metro Detroit area.

Rob Molnar, chairman of CET and CFO of Wm. Molnar Roofing Inc., has worked in the roofing and sheet metal industry since he was a kid, but began to consider it a career in 2006. He strongly believes in the value of his trade and says that it offers great opportunities for anyone interested.

“It has been a goal of mine to contribute as much as I can to help highlight the professional level of the craft compared to other professions within the overall American workforce,” Molnar said in an email. “Roofing, and construction trades in general, can be a very prosperous and fulfilling career if we take it seriously, treat it as a respectable profession, and continue to learn and motivate each other to excel.”

The skilled trades have other benefits as well, he said.

“When a person decides to learn a skilled trade, they make a decision to invest in themselves,” Molnar said. “They no longer have to worry about being able to pay a plumber to fix their leaky toilet. They understand the science behind the pressurized water system, or the gravity-fed component, and therefore they can troubleshoot most circumstances they find themselves in, while others are reliant on us to fix their daily mechanical-oriented challenges. The knowledge that the self-sufficient skilled tradesperson earns is a powerful tool, since others trust our professional opinion.”

Molnar gave thanks to Jim Struble, of RCI Electric; Cam Freeman, of Technical Hot and Cold; and the late Dennis Sierkierski, of Denken Electric, all of whom gave a great deal of time and money to the work on CET. Sierkierski passed away four days before the project’s completion.

“Their volunteer efforts prove they are sacrificing for the benefit of others because they take their sense of duty seriously, and I deeply respect them for that,” Molnar said.

For more information about the Construction Education Trust Apprenticeship Training School at 31800 Sherman Ave. in Madison Heights, call (248) 298-3600.

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